An Inconvenient Death

Posted by - September 18, 2011 | Category: Library

“A man’s dying is more the survivors’ affair than his own.”

 – Thomas Mann

Lotus Flower

Our bus struck and killed a woman tonight.  The bus driver was making a u-turn back onto the highway after a meal break in Quang Tri province, Vietnam en route to Hanoi from Hue.  The woman’s moped slammed into the side.  She probably survived the impact, but our driver, perhaps thinking we had hit the concrete partition, backed up, crushing the woman and her scooter underneath.

Strangers rushed to offer assistance, but the solemn looks coupled with the lack of action pretty much said it all. 

She was gone.

As the gathering crowd obscured her body from view, the passengers, silent until now save for the initial gasps of horror, began piecing together what had just happened.  That’s when someone carried out the boy.  In the rush to help the woman, they had failed to notice her son, still under the bus – unconscious, but still breathing.  They rushed him away on the back of a scooter.  No gurneys or neck braces or ambulances here I’m afraid.

About 20 minutes after the accident, the strangers picked up the woman, and placed her in the back of a taxi.  Our bus driver went with her.  Forty minutes later the police finally arrived, comically measuring and moving pieces of the wreckage.  Then, like an afterthought, remembering to take photos.

An hour passed and our driver, his shirt stained with blood, returned to face the police.  A few minutes into the questioning, a Dutch passenger approached the driver, handing him a cell phone. “Can you talk to her?” he asked. “It’s the travel agent. I’m trying to get a refund on the tour I booked.”

Tactfulness is a notion lost on idiots.  A dead mother and wounded child just outside his window, and he’s worried about making his connection.

Later while waiting inside the bus, the Dutch passenger would say, “Why did this have to happen to us?”  I thought that was probably a more appropriate question for the woman’s family to be asking.  But there he was, complaining like a champ.

Yes, we would be delayed.  Yes, we would eventually have to stand on the side of the road flagging down buses to ferry us the rest of the way.  But in the grand scheme of things, this delay was minor.  It was a blip.

A woman died here tonight.  And for at least one person on that bus, that was inconvenient.  And that makes me sad. 

You will be faced with all sorts of inconveniences each and every spin around that great big glorious sun.  How you deal with those inconveniences speaks to your character.  Especially in times of trauma.  And if your first thoughts turn to ticket refunds and missed connections instead of gratitude that you were not hurt, or prayer for that little boy, you are missing the boat completely.

Life is so fleeting, so temporary.  And there are no guarantees any one of us will make it through the night.

Zero.

The accident made me appreciate life even that much more.  And how blessed I am to be able to do what I’m doing right now, at this very moment.

I didn’t take any pictures that night. Because like the actions of the Dutchman, I didn’t think it was appropriate.  I’ll always have it in my head though.  So will the other passengers – the Americans, the Korean, the Australian, the Japanese, and of course the Vietnamese — who were thoughtful, respectful, and rose above the tendency to complain.  The Dutchman?  I don’t think he had much in his head to begin with.

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59 comments - add one
  1. Oh my God, this post made me so sad. Things like this should never happen, what a tragedy for the poor woman and her family. I’ve been hearing about accidents so often lately that it’s making me always more upset. I know sometimes it’s nobody’s direct fault, but we need to be extra careful when on the road, always.
    The Dutch idiot doesn’t even deserve a mention really.

  2. Wow. What an unfortunate turn of events. Tragic. I hope her son is Ok. Like Angela said, the Dutch guy doesn’t deserve a mention, so unbelievably petty given the circumstances.

  3. I’m at a bit of a loss for words.

    I was saddened by the woman’s death, more so by the fact that – if he survives – her young son will not have a mother. As tragic as all of that is, I am actually most disturbed by the actions of that passenger. What are people thinking. How have we become so privileged and thoughtless as to be more concerned with, say, a refund on our tour than the lives (or deaths) of those around.

    We just wrote a post titled “Entitlement Sucks.” This better illuminates that than the examples we shared.

  4. Oh, my God, how awful! A couple of years ago, I came upon the aftermath of a terrible traffic accident when I was on my way to my teaching job at a school. The car was crushed on the side of the road and a woman was lying in the middle of the street, covered in blood. It was the most horrifying thing I had ever seen. I was shaking and, when I arrived at school, I immediately burst into tears. I can imagine how terrible this must have been for all of you. The Dutch guy, although he seemed like an idiot, was probably handling it in his own way by pretending it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.

  5. What a sad story. Sad for the woman & her son, sad for all your passengers who experienced it, sad for the bus driver. Thank you for sharing with the rest of us… always good to be reminded about having perspective in any situation. Be careful out there!

  6. Some people are idiots – we experience at least one or two every day.

    So sad to hear about your experience – how traumatic and heartbreaking for that woman’s family and her son. I’m assuming he survived?

    Thanks for sharing this piece – it’s a sobering reminder.

  7. Unbelievably sad story. Thank you for your tact and care in telling it. I once had an ‘inconvenient’ death on a trip – a person committed suicide beneath a train I was riding from Paris to London. It was a difficult experience without being able to see what was happening – I can’t imagine seeing it as you did. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  8. How tragic! I am saddened by this story. Saddened by the lost of life, a boy that is barely hanging onto his life and the inconsiderate tourist! Thanks for reminding us all what’s important in life!

  9. how absolutely horrific. you would hope that in a crisis like this, one would rise to the challenge and show the best of humanity, not the worst.

    I’m so sorry to hear that but am glad you had the sense that the dutch boy did not…

  10. Wow… this is intense. I can’t believe that guy had the audacity to interrupt everyone for his stupid refund! I don’t usually get annoyed with stopped traffic when it is from an accident. I always think I am lucky to be alive and the thought of being stuck in traffic for an hour or two completely melts away.

    I had a similar experience on a bus in Vietnam, except luckily the woman survived. Before we even knew what happened our bus driver had slammed on the brakes and we all flew forward in our seats. It felt like we had run something over, so it scared the crap out of me to look outside and see what happened. We saw a woman laying on the ground next to her motorbike. Thankfully we had not run over her, but her bike was trashed and I’m sure she had some injuries. Our bus driver got out and started yelling at her. I will never forget that.

    My heart goes out to this woman’s child and family. 🙁

    1. That bus driver that you mentioned is just as much of a jerk-off as the Dutchman. Yelling at the accident victim? Ugh, I hate people sometimes. 😐

      Re: blog post – Very sobering yet touching story. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Wrote a long comment but actually perhaps the only thing to say is – how sad. A timely reminder that everything is fleeting for all of us, though…Thank you

  12. That is so very sad. I just don’t understand people. What was that person thinking handing the bus driver the phone? He should be ashamed. I am sorry for the woman, her family and her son, what a tragic incident.

  13. That soul-less Dutchman has no clue as to how inappropriate his behavior was that day. Sadly, he is not alone in his ignorance and disrespect for the lives of others. People like that are a perfect waste of good oxygen.

  14. Its a definite sad reminder not only that life is short, but also a sad reminder that people can be so irritatingly self centered. We all have different personalities, which we do have to accept and respect. But it makes it hard when people react with such stupidity. I only hope that Dutchman realizes, in hindsight, the gravity of his actions at this poor woman’s death. I’d like to think that people are generally good, even if we don’t always show it.

  15. I am amazed at the lack of sensitivity and caring that a person can display. How tragic for the family and how sad for those of you who witnessed her death. That Dutch tourist is obviously lacking a heart. I hope the child survived.

  16. The road toll in Vietnam is pretty high. There’s not much protection when you’re on a motorbike.
    In four years of riding a motorbike in Vietnam, the closest call I ever had was when I was nearly sideswiped by a policeman (in uniform) who was texting as he rode through peak hour city traffic.
    This is a sad story and, even more sadly, a common story in Vietnam.

  17. The Dutch guy may have been operating in auto-pilot mode; not everybody handles shock well and I suppose it’s possible that he isn’t quite the jerk that his actions on that day would seem to suggest. Bad behaviour isn’t exclusive to bad people. On the other hand of course, if his conduct there was consistent with his usual form then I don’t have the words for him.

    How awful for that little family – such an instant end to the life that young boy thought was his. How brutal it can all be.

    Was this a tour group? I must admit to being prejudiced against them – they seem to encourage this detached and aloof attitude that the world is an exhibit to be toured and not a real place full of real people to be respected. Perhaps the woman was just part of the exhibit for that man, and thus dehumanised.

  18. I agree there are times when photography is completely inappropriate – some situations are just too private.

    I also agree with your statement, “How you deal with those ‘inconveniences’ speaks to your character.”

  19. Wow. What a horrible thing to have happened, let alone to witness. Did anyone speak up to the Dutch tourist about his insensitivity?

    When I was in Amsterdam a few years ago I saw a woman on a bicycle get hit by a tram. She died in the street too and I remember thinking the same thing that you did. I was so grateful to be alive.

  20. My heart sinks, I’m so sorry you had to experience that. I’m sending you strength and hope your pain eases, no doubt this will always be in your heart.

  21. God, what a terrible situation. And what a horrendous way for that poor woman to die.

    It’s frustrating to hear comments like ‘Why did this happen to us?’ from people. I swear, empathy doesn’t seem to be the universal trait it should be :-/

  22. Clearly the Dutchman was not in touch with any sort of feeling. I’m so sorry to hear about this woman, her family and how you had to experience such tragedy right before you. These events truly put everything into perspective.

  23. Wow, this was such a sad and moving post. I don’t even know what to say about it, but by the end of the story I had tears in my eyes. It puts everything into perspective, doesn’t it?

  24. wow. that is absolutely horrible. i’m sorry for that poor woman, her little son, her family, and even you for having that memory in your head now. but i’m sending you a huge thanks with a hug for taking the opportunity to remind us of what is important. you honored this woman so well in doing so. thanks raymond. 🙂

  25. Such a sad event. The inhumanity of some people never seizes to amaze me. There are some that walk among us unseeing and unfeeling of the pain of those around them.
    I send a little long distance prayer for that small boy, the woman, and their family.

  26. I hadn’t read this story until now. So tragic and sorry to hear about this. I don’t know how I would have acted but I appreciate your thoughts on this.

    As for the Dutch guy, I understand the frustration of missing a flight. But under the circumstances, let it go. A woman died. You missed a flight. She will never go anywhere again.

  27. Everyday I get more and more surprised by the behavior of tourists. Instead of looking at their trip as a way to uncover the wonders this world has to offer us, many just see it mainly as a checkpoint list which they have to complete being oblivious to those around them, especially the local population.

    These are the sorts of people who during the climb to mt Everest would pass by dying climbers just to have a chance to reach the summit. Sad

  28. I am incredibly thankful for you sharing this story. Without insight like this we have no way of growing as humans.

    It disgusts me that a man’s first thought upon this tragic accident would be a selfish one. In such an unspeakable tragedy it is up to all of us to gather and support.

    I apologize that you had to experience this on your vacation, but I am very thankful that you were there to act as a foreigner should in such a tragedy!

    Thanks again for sharing, hopefully this will serve as a reminder to all of us.

  29. Wow man that’s a crazy story, hard to believe some people fail to see the significance of that kind of event and focus on their trivial issues. Bummer topic but really well written.

  30. That is such a tragic story. I can’t believe some people can be such ignorant asses at a time like that. Although nothing will ever bring his Mother back, I really hope that little Boy triumphs over his adversity here.

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